2006 West End

Connie Fisher - the People's Maria (Flikr: lizsmith)

2006 will always be remembered as the year that the theatre was brought into the living room, via the medium of reality television. After what already felt like years of shows such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Pop Idol’, it was only a matter of time before live West End theatre was tarred with the same brush. The crossover brought with it much controversy from industry professionals, many of whom did not agree with casting unknowns against those in the industry who had worked hard to get where they are. As soon as it became apparent that Lord Lloyd Webber was involved, the project regained some dignity, before being devalued once again by the addition of Graham Norton into the mix.

The idea was simple: mount a brand new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, scour the country for any girl who thought they could be Maria Von Trapp and let the gods of television do the rest. BBC cleverly called the show ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’ and had the country hooked for what seemed like months, as one by one our favourite Maria-wannabes were ejected via a live sing-off, conducted by Lloyd Webber himself, changing the appeal of west end shows forever. The winner was clear from the start, and Connie Fisher landed the famous role alongside Lesley Garrett and Alexander Hanson to begin later that year at the Palladium.

 

Not one to miss a trick, formidable producing titan Sonia Friedman decided to jump on the band wagon in a disastrous effort to find the UK’s next Alan Bennett. From 2,000 scripts that were submitted, Friedman whittled it down to three and finally chose Kate Betts’ ‘On the Third Day’, which sadly failed to deliver, running for only a limited time at the Ambassadors Theatre.

 

Rock 'n' Roll (Flikr - Litandmore)

The Royal Court continued to show exactly how to produce a successful new play as Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll opened, mixing political intrigue in Prague with the music of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. They also honoured the anniversary of Look Back in Anger (1956) with David Tennant starring as Jimmy Porter in the kitchen sink drama. Douglas Hodge directed a hilarious version of See How They Run which starred Nancy Carroll and Julie Legrand. The RSC mounted their Complete Works Festival in Stratford, bringing a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to the Gielgud Theatre. Derek Jacobi featured once again at the Donmar Warehouse in John Mortimer’s play A Voyage Round My Father, which became overshadowed somewhat by the successful production of Frost/Nixon starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, which subsequently transferred to the West End and then Broadway. Peter Hall directed a beautifully fresh production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever starring Judi Dench as Judith Bliss, which went on to tour the UK, though without the star name.

 

As Les Miserables celebrated its 21st Birthday in the West End, new musicals continued to flourish. Idina Menzel recreated her Tony Award Winning performance of Elphaba in Wicked which took up residency at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, performing alongside Helen Dallimore and Miriam Margolyes. Other Broadway transfers included Avenue Q and of course Spamalot which took over the Palace Theatre. Tim Curry reprised his role as King Arthur, and was joined by the ever amazing Hannah Waddingham as the Lady of the Lake. Dirty Dancing opened its doors at the Aldwych Theatre and soon became a haven for hen parties, with audiences resisting the rules of theatre and speaking lines before the actors. Ushers did their best to intervene but it soon became apparent that no one hushed [or indeed put] baby in the corner.

 

Sunday in the Park with George (Flickr CarbonNYC)

The Menier Chocolate Factory produced a visually stunning production of Sondheim’s most difficult musical Sundy in the Park with George which starred a magnificent Daniel Evans as Georges Seurat. The production transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre, picking up a suitably northern Jenna Russell along the way. The production injected some much needed intellect into the West End, and helped balance the transfer scales, moving to Broadway for an equally successful run. A new production of Cabaret directed by Rufus Norris brought nudity to the stage and starred a number of C-list celebrities, after Sheila Hancock took a turn at Frau Schneider – the most disappointing being Julian Clary as the Emcee, barely putting in enough effort to create a character and sadly devaluing the otherwise astute production to a camp caricature.

 

Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre (Flickr Phil Gyford)

The National Theatre produced the Broadway transfer of Caroline, or Change starring Tonya Pinkins and the wonderful Pippa Bennett-Warner directed by George C Wolfe. Michael Grandage took a step off his pedestal to direct a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita which starred pint sized Elena Rodger as the first lady of Argentina, alongside Phillip Quast and Matt Rawle. With new orchestrations and new staging, the show has rarely looked so good, although a bitter Elaine Paige had to finally accept her glory days were up, as she became a face for Radio on Radio 2 Sunday. In November Trevor Nunn attempted a musical theatre-ised production of Porgy and Bess at the Savoy which failed to win the hearts of many and closed early due to poor advanced sales. Classic musicals continued to pack in the crowds as Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre and the Regent’s Park Open Air production of The Boy Friend showed that they really don’t write them like they used to.

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